Estimating the Overall Economic Value of the Benefits provided by the Natura 2000 Network

While the prime focus of the Natura 2000 EU protected area network is on the conservation and restoration of biodiversity, there has also been an increasing interest in and recognition of the socio-economic benefits of biodiversity and of protected areas specifically.

This study, which was led by IEEP’s environmental economics team, has explored a range of approaches to provide a first estimate of the overall economic benefits of the Natura 2000 Network. Based on scaling up from 21 studies, it has been estimated that these benefits could be between €200 and €300 billion per year at present, or 2 to 3 per cent of the EU’s Gross Domestic Product. Note that this result is an illustrative one and provides rather an order-of-magnitude estimation, as both the number and geographical distribution of the studies used were limited. In addition to the overall assessment, the study also looked at the major ecosystem services which the Natura 2000 Network provides, including climate change regulation, moderation of extreme events such as floods, water regulation, pollination and food provision. The study also looked at the benefits of marine protected sites.

Based on the analysis, the report suggests a ‘roadmap’ for the future valuation of the Natura 2000 Network. This includes improved use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and mapping, developing ‘value transfer production functions’ and foremost conducting more valuation studies across regions and habitats. It recommends that 200 comparable studies should be carried out to build a robust evidence base for Europe and improve precision and representativeness for future assessment of the values of Natura 2000. The study also underlined that the economic assessment of values should be seen as complementary information to insights on the richness and rarity of biodiversity and its intrinsic value in Europe, which after all are the reasons for designating sites as Natura 2000.